Two new rail projects have made significant progress in June: the London CrossRail tunnelling and a brand new local railway station in South West England.
CrossRail Tunnels Completed
June saw the completion of 42 kilometres (26 miles) of the new CrossRail railway tunnels through the heart of London. CrossRail is a several year construction project to build east-west railway links through the centre of London. The lines link Paddington in western London to east (Stratford) and south east London (Woolwich and on to Abbey Wood). The construction project was started in 2009 (with tunnelling beginning in 2012) and, six years later, has seen the tunnel bores completed. Work will continue to fit out stations and build the actual rail lines. The project is 65% complete.
See this map that shows the tunnelling progress. The map highlights that each of the bores were constructed by giant boring machines and illustrates which bore was constructed by each machine. Rather fetchingly these machines were given names: Ada, Phylis, Elizabeth, Victoria, Ellie, Jessica, Mary and Sophia. The background to the names could be another blog post as they were carefully chosen.
CrossRail is a key strategic project for London (and a wider region) and will provide fast, and key new journey opportunities linking important railways that are currently concentrated on terminals built in the mid-nineteenth century. The line(s) will link east and west journey opportunities to north-south links creating very useful new connections that will be much faster than the existing Underground transfers.
Eventually…A New Station
Another railway station opened in early June. Newcourt station is the first in Devon, South West England, to open for 20 years and will serve an expanding residential area. The station will offer sustainable transport journeys with a half hourly train service on the commuter line into Exeter.
The opening of the station was delayed and considerably exceeded the proposed budget. Originally the station had been scheduled to open in late 2014; then it was suggested that it would open during spring 2015. A proposed opening date of 17 May 2015 was announced and even a poster made just a few days before. The opening was cancelled at the last minute due to “regulatory issues”: the Rail Regulator had not granted a licence to the train company (First Great Western). It eventually opened on the 4th June 2015 but with very little publicity before the event. The budget cost was £1.5 million but that was exceeded by almost 50%: the station cost £2.2 million for a basic single platform.
Whilst it is welcome to see such a new sustainable transport option being provisioned there is no excuse for bad planning, co-ordination and excessive costs over an original estimate. Part of the issue must be the large number of agencies involved: Network Rail, their contractors, the local councils (County and City), the local train company and the national government (Department for Transport and Rail Regulator) who provided an initial station grant of £1.5 million. Lack of co-ordination is inexcusable and the fact that no publicity was made around the station’s opening before it happened is inexplicable. According to a spokesman for the local County Council (on this BBC web page) the additional cost was due to increased land costs, additional rail industry costs and “unforeseen additional work, such as the replacement of signal box equipment and accessibility requirements for new stations.” Some of these should have been easily foreseen: accessibility law has not changed recently and the rail equipment should have been part of the initial estimate if all parties were communicating properly. The lack of publicity before opening highlights the fragmented rail industry and its inability to effectively co-ordinate.
Despite this criticism, the station is a great investment and there will be two more stations over the next few years in Devon. In reality it opened relatively quickly in less than a year. It is hoped that much learning will be made to benefit the other projects and that costs can be managed properly.